Old Tech

January 1, 2013 at 8:02 pm 1 comment

121222-60D-6266Pickett Slide Rule

This issue is Old Technology and Alicia makes her debut as a photographer.  She and Paul had so much fun taking these pictures that I’m going to step aside and let them enjoy the telling of the tale.

Some really old technology is the first plutonium fueled nuclear reactor to produce electricity, the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1), in Idaho.  These photos walk through the building exterior, the chalk commemoration on the control room and one of the dozen light bulbs lit on that day in 1963.  My favorite shot is the shielded lab where scientists used long arms to manipulate chemical experiments.  The interior shots are lit with the Canon 580 flash and you’ll see the reflection of the flash head on some 50 sheets of leaded glass.  The flash was right on the camera and the camera right up against the glass, simple as can be, but a wonderful effect that shows what these early nuclear scientists had to deal with.  The arms aren’t robotic – just direct manipulators.  Imagine mixing your cocktails at the end of a six foot stick – oh, and they’re highly radioactive too.  Amazing accomplishments. http://inl.gov/ebr is an official EBR website for further perusal.

120801-60D-_MG_4415 Electricity first generated here from atomic energy - 12/20/51. One of the bulbs first lit by atomic energy nuclear experiments behind 50 layers of glass

Experimental Breeder Reactor EBR-1

Declared a national landmark in 1965, the Experimental Breeder Reactor was initiated in 1949 to prove the nuclear physics principle that a breeder reactor should be possible. It was originally referred to as Chicago Pile 4 and as Zinn’s Infernal Pile. Construction was started in 1951 and the plant generated its first electricity (enough to power four lightbulbs) in December of the same year. The following day, the reactor powered the whole building. ERB1 was deactivated in 1964.


Loki looks for direction

Loki jumped up to see what we were doing with all the pretty lights on this shiny metal thing also known as a brass maritime compass.  This old compass was manufactured by the Stanley London company during World War 1. It is made of solid brass which made it so the cat couldn’t knock it off the table. This particular model has a natural sine table on the top of the lid, it was intended for nautical use. Unfortunately there isn’t much information on the history of the piece as most websites are primarily concerned with selling it. The highest price I saw was for about 50 euros.

121125-60D-6054 121222-60D-6298 121222-60D-6311

These three photos are about a compass but they show what can be done with backgrounds.  The first is the compass shot on a sheet of orange poster board; a 99 cent way to add a lot of color.  The flash is off camera to the left, as you’ll see from the shadow, so that the flash doesn’t reflect directly from the brass compass.  The book, Light, Science and Magic (http://www.amazon.com/Light-Science-Magic-Fourth-Edition/dp/0240812255/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1357088373&sr=8-1&keywords=light+science+and+magic), has great advice on taking pictures of shiny metallic things.

The second photo, courtesy of Alicia, is the compass on a pair of white poster boards.  The flash is up high left shooting almost straight down.  The flash has a blue gel (http://www.amazon.com/Rosco-Strobist-Collection-Cinegel-Lumiquest/dp/B002SWD8LQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357088589&sr=8-2&keywords=rosco+gel) and the exposure is set to overexpose on the right and let the blue give contrast on the left.

The third photo is in the same setup but without the blue gel.  The sine table is lit the same way.


My grandfather’s typewriter is an endless source of photographic inspiration.  Who can resist a macro of the Self Starter key?  These are all shot at the flash synch speed, 1/250th, of the Canon 60D at f11 or f5.6 with the flash adjusted to get a nice even exposure.  These we shot hand held using the Trap Focus from Magic Lantern – the 50mm f2.5 macro lens is in manual focus and the shutter fires automagically when the camera detects focus.

The last picture is the ‘dinger’ on the underside of the typewriter.

Remington Rand Typewriter Remington Rand Typewriter Remington Rand Typewriter

Remington Rand Typewriter

Did you know the Remington company started out by making personal firearms for our soldiers in the second World War? That was the Remington Arms company which turned into the Remington Rand company. After producing thousands of guns, the company switched to being a pioneer in computer technology, making typewriters like the one our family has and eventually (through various corporate mergers) becomes Unisys in 1986. The Remington typewriters were the first to use the QWERTY layout for the keys. There were at least 112 prototypes produced by various people before the Remington’s made one that was actually usable.  There was resistance from the populace to buying the typewriter because poor spellers could no longer hide behind poor handwriting. Samuel L. Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was the first author to submit a typed manuscript to his publisher.


The US Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio (http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/) is a wonderful place for a photographer.  It has wide open spaces with plenty of room for a tripod.  A wide angle lens and a strong flash really light up everything from biplanes to spy satellites.  There’s an Enigma and a SIGABA code machine on display.  As these historical artifacts are behind glass, I used a tripod to make the 20 second exposure using the limited available light to avoid the reflections from a flash.


The Enigma machine from the US Air Force Museum in Dayton OH


The Enigma’s secret sauce was in the rotors – each was wired differently.

The Enigma machine was pioneered in the second world war as an encryption device for secure military communication. It was used by the Germans and broken first by the Polish. Winston Churchill has attributed the faster end of the war to the operation of decrypting the German messages (this operation was known as Ultra). Most if not all machines on display in various museums around the world were captured from Axis forces. Essentially the Engima machine consists of a lot of different parts, the most talked about being the Rotors without which the machine is useless. The machine we have photos of is the three rotor model (eventually the machines could go up to 8 rotors in an effort to increase security) from the US Airforce Museum in Dayton, Ohio.

Singer Featherweight sewing machine, circa 1950

The same night the compass and typewriter were shot, a sewing machine shared the poster board stage.  These are all lit with a flash high on a stand to the left shooting straight down.

Our particular sewing machine here is a Singer Featherweight. According to the serial number and various charts found on the internet, our machine was manufactured in Elizabethport NJ around August 1950. It weighs about 11 lbs and could actually work if we bothered to plug it in…and learn how to sew. The Singer model was adapted from the sewhandy design acquired from another company and was vastly more popular. Probably because it was lighter (made of aluminum instead of iron, go figure) and thus was actually portable.

Singer Featherweight sewing machine, circa 1950Singer Featherweight sewing machine, circa 1950Singer Featherweight sewing machine, circa 1950

It seems most of mathematics is devoted to turning hard problems into algebra.  The slide rule is the classic example where additions on a logarithmic scale perform multiplication and division.   These photos are simply lit on white poster board.

Pickett Slide Rule

Pickett Slide Rule

The slide rule is a nifty gadget we don’t know how to use anymore. Or at least Alicia and Lisa don’t know how to use it.  Paul does.  It was promulgated in the 1950s and 1960s until the scientific calculator was developed and released in 1974 which made the slide rule or “slipstick” largely obsolete. The slide rule was made for ease of calculating multiplication and division using logarithmic scales. Slipsticks made for specific professions such as finance and aviation would also have additional features.




Eventually, the bengals discover everything and they joined us.  We moved the stuff off the two white posterboards and the bengals took over.  These are all lit with that same flash up high with the cats reaching for their toy.

The cats were naturally quite curious about what was so fascinating to Dad and I on this little table. So they jumped up to help. Taking advantage of their energy, Dad quickly switched lenses and I grabbed a feathered toy. Loki started first, showing off the length of his belly as I made him reach for the toy. Then Kuri jumped up to join him. It was certainly interesting trying to keep both big cats on this little table in front of an even smaller foam board.

Canon DLSR through the viewfinder of a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B

Macro of a DSLR, shot through the viewfinder of a Vest Pocket Kodak Model B

My grandfather’s Vest Pocket Kodak Model B has been on a shelf for many years and makes its appearance here.  The viewfinder is the prism just above the lens.  The prior shot of the DSLR was made using a macro lens straight down through the viewfinder.   The DSLR was a few feet away on a table with an orange poster board behind it.  The flash was off camera and lighting the DLSR.  A second flash would have been nice to light up the camera itself to add a bit of context to the picture; there’s always next time!

Vest Pocket Kodak Model B

Vest Pocket Kodak Model B

Vest Pocket Kodak Model B

You’ll see a couple of exposures in Alicia’s shots.  There’s two flashes running here – one on the camera and one up high.  Can you figure out which was gel’ed?

The gels we used to get all these fun colors are actually small transparencies in various colors that a photographer would attach to the front of the main flash. Thus you get colored lights instead of the hard bright light. I particularly liked the warmer colors on the old tech, it relieved the starkness of the black metal and heightened the brightness of the brass.

I hadn’t taken formal pictures for a very long time until this particular shoot. I had forgotten how fun it could be trying to arrange the composition to take the most advantage of your materials. I’m not one for remembering all the f-stops and appetures, but, once Dad set up the camera, I was thoroughly entertained by changing the gels, trying different angles and figuring out how to get the image I wanted. I’ll probably steal the camera from my father again some time.



Entry filed under: Flash photography, Macro, Photography, Still life. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Around the House I Flight

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Jen  |  January 5, 2013 at 5:48 am



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